Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Wed, December 31 2014, 10:18 AM
After two days of fruitless effort, the search and rescue operation discovered on Tuesday debris and bodies from AirAsia flight QZ8501 in the Karimata Strait, the waters that separate Belitung Island and Kalimantan.
The first discovery was made in the afternoon when a C-295 transport aircraft discovered floating debris in the strait.
Shortly after, an Air Force Hercules C-130 found an object casting a shadow in the ocean, thought to resemble an airplane.
Rescue workers on the aircraft also found three bodies thought to be victims of the crash at 1:25 p.m., while the Indonesian Navy warship, KRI Bung Tomo, discovered an emergency exit door at 1:50 p.m.
All of the discoveries were made within sector V, one of 13 sectors in the search and rescue area, measuring 150-by-200-square nautical miles.
“Now we are focusing our recovery process in sector V,” National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Air Chief Marshall Henry Bambang Soelistyo told a press conference at his office in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday.
As night fell on the strait, Basarnas had recovered three bodies, he said.
“They are on KRI Bung Tomo. Two are female and one is male. They were recovered at 5:50 p.m.,” Bambang said.
Basarnas decided to halt the recovery operation after finding the three bodies because the tide was rising.
“When the tide recedes tonight, we can continue the recovery using lights from the ships. But now the tide is still 3 meters high,” said Bambang.
Basarnas also retrieved some items from the aircraft, including an aspirator assembly, a small blue suitcase and a reservoir slide craft.
AirAsia had confirmed the aspirator assembly and the reservoir slide craft belonged to the airplane, according to Bambang.
Basarnas is being assisted in the search and rescue operation by the Indonesian Navy.
“In the vicinity of the debris, we have KRI Yos Sudarso, KRI Bung Tomo, Basarnas ship KN 224. Later tonight, other ships will arrive, including KRI Banda Aceh, three Singaporean ships, KRI Pulau Romang and KRI Pulau Rengat,” Bambang said.
Also expected to join the rescue operation are sonar-equipped ships from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Survey Association (ASI).
Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reported that 40 bodies had been recovered from the sea. The news agency quoted Col. Manahan Simorangkir, a spokesman for the Navy for the report.
The misreporting prompted Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Moeldoko to issue a statement saying that all information regarding the rescue operation would come from Basarnas, which was in charge of the whole search and rescue operation.
Moeldoko also stated that all military assets, including ships delivering logistics such as fuel, would be under Basarnas.
“We will deploy helicopters to take the bodies [from the sea to the ships],” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Moeldoko said that the Navy also had 47 divers, 11 of whom had been deployed on Tuesday to help Basarnas’ 10 divers.
The bodies and jet wreckage, once they could be retrieved, would be transported to Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan.
“There, we have prepared coffins. Then the bodies will be transported on Hercules aircraft to Surabaya. […] The bodies will be identified there and returned to their families,” Moeldoko said.
In Surabaya, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that the recovery operation would solely be focused on retrieving the bodies.
“I have given orders to focus on the recovery of both passengers and crew. Right now, just focus on the recovery,” Jokowi said in a press briefing at Juanda International Airport.